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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 [39:40]
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 [38:32]
Daniel Grimal (violin)
Les Dissonances
rec. live, 27 October 2012 (concerto); 12 February 2013 (symphony), l’Opéra de Dijon, Dijon
Review FLACs downloaded from eClassical
DISSONANCES RECORDS LD004 [78:12]

From what the booklet tells my not-great French reading skills, Les Dissonances is a chamber orchestra that performs all across France and is starting its own record label. From what my ears tell me, they might actually be a glorified chamber music group. Timpani enthusiasts will rejoice, because the string section sounds a lot like an octet. There are actually 33 string players, but they sound fewer; it might be because the especially small group of cellos and basses means a top-heavy timbre. Rarely has a Brahms Violin Concerto given such prominence to the percussion player.
 
Then again, this is a unique Violin Concerto reading in many ways. For one, the live concert was miked so that the violinist isn’t blown out of proportion. David Grimal is placed front and centre but balanced with the orchestra naturally. It sounds like you’re in a real concert hall. Grimal is a pretty good soloist, who produces a slender but attractive tone and has no problems with the part. As you’d expect from a chamber orchestra with forwardly-placed woodwinds, the concerto’s slow movement is a true highlight. In the finale Grimal misses the last extra spark of inspiration or fire: whatever you choose to call that thing that elevates the truly great performances - like Anne-Sophie Mutter’s.
 
The Fourth Symphony is at a disadvantage, though. The undersized string sections just can’t expect to match or better glorious playing from the Vienna Philharmonic (Kleiber or Kertesz), SWR or NDR Orchestras (Gielen and Wand), or Pittsburgh Symphony (Janowski). Unlike in the Violin Concerto, some climaxes (notably in the slow movement) don’t sound powerful enough, with the timpanist holding back and the live recording growing congested. The flute solo highlights an otherwise underwhelming finale.
 
There are some things Les Dissonances might consider doing differently next time. For one thing, the names of the works are printed on the cover in what must be size 1 font. Go look at the cover photo. Can you even see them? For another, the booklet could at least mention the music performed. Grimal uses an unusual and interesting cadenza in the concerto, and I don’t recognize it, but there’s no info. Additionally, the ensemble purports to have no conductor, but then why does Grimal get billing not just as the soloist but the orchestral leader, the guy whose face is on the cover, and the guy whose name takes up the title for their website’s homepage (“Les Dissonances – David Grimal”)?
 
Most importantly, Les Dissonances can live up to their promise by choosing more suitable repertoire. Maybe they can do a series pairing the symphonies of Robert Schumann with those of Frenchwoman Louise Farrenc, whose admirers included Berlioz. That would be excellent. I’ll make a wish.
 
Brian Reinhart

Masterwork Index: Brahms violin concerto ~~ Symphony 4